Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues134Book ReviewsSUN, Ken Chih-Yan. 2021. Time and...

Book Reviews

SUN, Ken Chih-Yan. 2021. Time and Migration: How Long-term Taiwanese Migrants Negotiate Later Life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Justine Rochot
p. 94-95

Full text

  • 1 As far as migrants from East Asia are concerned, this trend is well illustrated in Nicole Dejong Ne (...)

1Experiences of ageing among long-term migrants in Western countries have long remained invisible in both migration and ageing studies. Migration scholarship initially tended to focus on younger migrants, and later on, on recently arrived elderly migrants.1 Ageing studies remain on their part dominated by social engineering approaches, tending to consider older persons from the sole lens of vulnerability and often failing to grasp their intimate experiences from an emic perspective. This lack of grounded research is particularly salient as far as ageing migrants are concerned, and within studies of ageing among Chinese societies.

2Ken Sun’s book therefore offers a timely addition to existing scholarship. Sun analyses the experiences of ageing among the Taiwanese who migrated to the US in the 1960s and 1970s, and settled there most of their adult life. Now in their sixties and seventies, and as the authoritarian Taiwan they left has since transformed into a democratic welfare state with an affordable web of care services, these senior migrants grapple with unprecedented questions regarding the life they want for themselves as ageing Taiwanese-Americans and retired parents of “American children.” Sun shows how these individuals from various social and ethnic backgrounds actively make sense of this new phase in their life course by navigating between structural contexts and cultural repertoires and through the rereading of their migratory experience. Thanks to qualitative data collected in New York, Boston, and Taiwan between 2009 and 2013 – including 115 interviews with long-term senior migrants in the US and senior returned migrants in Taiwan – Sun argues that experiences of ageing among long-term migrants can be better understood through a time lens. While long-term migration shapes the ways “senior immigrants desire, define, and seek ‘aging well’” (p. 8), the passage of time “also [changes] places” (p. 11) and affects the connections migrants cultivate with their home and host countries along their life course.

3The book is composed of six chapters. The first one broadly analyses the “economies of belonging,” the changing “goals, visions, and priorities” these Taiwanese migrants have set for themselves “across time and borders” (p. 22) – from their youth under Martial Law and the influence of American culture in Taiwan, to the reevaluation of their relationships with their host and home countries in their later years. While some decide to stay in the US (to enjoy the familial and social ties they have developed there or because they have grown estranged from their homeland), others choose to move back to enjoy a specific ageing lifestyle, seek or provide care, or participate in the betterment of their home country.

4Chapters Two to Four examine the ways long-term migration affects older Taiwanese migrants’ understandings of family relationships with their “American children” (Chapter Two), spouse (Chapter Three), and as grandparents (Chapter Four). Among other findings, Sun shows that having themselves “left” their ageing parents to migrate, and since the betterment of their children’s opportunities constituted a core reason for migration, these ageing Taiwanese migrants find themselves in a place where they cannot expect their children to take care of them, and where doing so “would defeat the purpose for migrating” (p. 59). Most therefore wish to avoid being a burden to their family, and sometimes move back to Taiwan or resort to institutional care to preserve a distant intimacy. Migration, Sun shows, also reconfigures spousal relationships across time and borders. While leaving Taiwan empowered many women (including by pulling them away from the scrutiny of their families) and redefined couples’ power dynamics, experiences of retirement or deteriorating health also contribute to reshaping gender roles. Older migrant men tend to be increasingly “aware of their wives as companions and caregivers” (p. 95) and are sometimes pushed to soften their attitudes toward their wives or children – at least in private, as co-ethnics’ gossip encourage maintaining gender-conforming roles in public.

5The last two chapters examine often neglected aspects of ageing: support social networks and perceptions of social rights. While Taiwanese ageing migrants in the US tend to reinforce their connections to their co-ethnics after retirement, they also have an “intimate understanding” (p. 137) of the place they occupy within Taiwanese-American networks: homeland politics, ethnic identities, and class divisions play an important role in the social and support networks ageing migrants choose to forge. Unlike their US-based peers, returnees in Taiwan have to “[relearn] their place” (p. 148) in a modernised homeland they no longer recognise and where they lack connections. Struggling with sociocultural gaps separating them from their co-nationals, returnees hence tend to favour selective relationships with relatives, old friends, or other like-minded returnees. The last chapter finally analyses long-term migrants’ perceptions of available social rights and welfare resources in their home and host countries. The creation of a National Health Insurance in 1995 in Taiwan indeed contributes to making returning desirable for many migrants. However, the fact that most of them perceive themselves as deserving individuals, having “won [their] social rights” (p. 167) in the US through long and hard work, affects long-term migrants’ evaluation of their “(un)deservingness” to social rights in Taiwan (return migrants being also often stigmatised for their burdening of social security) and pushes them to highlight their lifelong or present contributions to their homelands.

  • 2 The “Protect the Diaoyu Islands Movement” is a social movement which originated in the early 1970s (...)

6This book will be of great interest to sociologists of ageing and migration as well as to Asian and Taiwan studies. That being said, two frustrations might arise from its reading. While Sun explains having conducted “ethnographic observations of the intimate life of both groups over two years” (p. 6), little actually remains of them in the book. Four short isolated ethnographic scenes appear through different chapters, but they occupy a very secondary position compared to interviews. The fact that Sun’s research process and positionality in the field is pushed away in the appendix speaks for the lack of importance given to ethnographic material. Finally, one could be surprised by the author’s lack of engagement with the sociology of generations: as young Taiwanese (sometimes university students) living in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, just when Taiwan’s economy was about to take off, the individuals studied here at least witnessed the nascent Baodiao Movement (baodiao yundong 保釣運動),2 Taiwan’s exclusion from the UN, or the US severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Whether or not this common location in historical time then held by US-based Taiwanese migrants potentially led them to develop forms of generational consciousness or affected their views of ageing today might have been useful to question, especially given the increased importance ageing studies put on generational factors.

Top of page


DEJONG NEWENDORP, Nicole. 2020. Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Top of page


1 As far as migrants from East Asia are concerned, this trend is well illustrated in Nicole Dejong Newendorp’s recent ethnography (2020) of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong seniors’ migration to the United States to rejoin their families.

2 The “Protect the Diaoyu Islands Movement” is a social movement which originated in the early 1970s among Republic of China students in the United States, in response to the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands between China, Taiwan, Japan and the United States.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Justine Rochot, SUN, Ken Chih-Yan. 2021. Time and Migration: How Long-term Taiwanese Migrants Negotiate Later Life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ”China Perspectives, 134 | 2023, 94-95.

Electronic reference

Justine Rochot, SUN, Ken Chih-Yan. 2021. Time and Migration: How Long-term Taiwanese Migrants Negotiate Later Life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ”China Perspectives [Online], 134 | 2023, Online since 01 September 2023, connection on 06 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Justine Rochot

Justine Rochot is a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Sociology, Humanities and Social Sciences Building, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan (

By this author

Top of page


The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search